In major diplomatic win, Pakistan returns downed fighter pilot to India

Pakistan on Friday handed over pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India through Pakistan-India border in Wagah (Photo Courtesy – Pakistan Air Force)
Updated 02 March 2019

In major diplomatic win, Pakistan returns downed fighter pilot to India

  • Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman handed over to Indian authorities around 9pm on Friday evening
  • Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan had promised his return as a "gesture of goodwill"

ISLAMABAD: Captured Indian Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed back to India on Friday, two days after he was captured by the Pakistan army and his jet downed, the Pakistani foreign office said, in a gesture seen as the first step towards dialling down the worst standoff between the two countries in decades. 

“Wing Commander Abhinandan, Indian POW [prisoner of war], returned to India today, as committed by PM [Prime Minister Imran] khan in his address to joint sitting of parliament, yesterday,” foreign office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal said in a Twitter post.

On Tuesday, Pakistan said Indian jets had violated the Line of Control (LoC) border which splits the disputed Kashmir valley into two parts, one administered by Pakistan, the other by India. India said it hit a militant training camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning but Pakistan said Indian jets were barely in its airspace for a few minutes before being chased away by Pakistani warplanes without any damage to lives or infrastructure.

The next day, Pakistan said it had carried out airstrikes on six targets across its border with India, shot down two Indian warplanes and arrested an enemy pilot, raising the possibility of further escalation.

But during a joint session of parliament on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the captured pilot would be handed back to India the next day as a “gesture of peace.”

Pakistani TV channels showed Varthaman walking across the border at Wagah around 9p.m. on Friday night, accompanied by Pakistani paramilitary rangers. He was straight-backed and somber-faced, and wearing a crisp white shirt, a navy blazer and grey pants. As he crossed over into India, an Indian officer shook his hand and another walked him onto Indian soil as the iron gates of the border gate slammed shut.

Varthaman has become the face of latest tensions between India and Pakistan. The arch-rivals have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Two of them were over the disputed Kashmir region on their border.

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

Updated 12 January 2020

Pakistan ‘wants to play its role’ for peace in Middle East – FO

  • Work on foreign minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States being done
  • Pakistan’s strong relations with regional countries has made it an important player

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated on Thursday that the country was going to play its role in restoring peace in the Middle East by working with other international stakeholders in the region.

“Pakistan welcomes de-escalation and wants to play its role in ensuring peace and stability in the region. We have seen that indication in United States President [Donald] Trump’s speech and are evaluating its contours,” the country’s foreign office spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui, said in her weekly media briefing in Islamabad on Thursday.

She said that Pakistan’s geographical position, along with its strong relations with regional countries and the United States, had made it a significant player in the Middle East.

“Pakistan has maintained that war is not the solution to any issue and made it clear that it will not become part of any regional conflict,” she said.

The spokesperson noted that Islamabad had enhanced its efforts to defuse tensions in the region and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had contacted his counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and many other important states in this connection.

“All the international players, including Saudi Arabia, have said that the region cannot afford another war and asked for restraint from both parties [the US and Iran]. It’s a collective objective of all countries to ensure peace and stability in the Middle East,” she said.

Commenting on the foreign minister’s upcoming visit to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the US, she said that “work on these tours has already started and they will take place as soon as dates are finalized with the respective countries.”

“We are very mindful for our brotherly and friendly relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other regional countries. Pakistan and the US also enjoy longstanding relations and have contacts with each other through multiple forums including political and military leadership,” Farooqui said, adding that the foreign office had established a task force to continuously monitor the situation in the Middle East and inform the government about it along with its suggestions on a daily basis.

The spokesperson expressed hope that recent developments in the Middle East would not affect the ongoing Afghan peace process.

“Pakistan hopes that progress made on Afghan peace process will not come to a halt and the world community will not lose its focus as a result of the ongoing tensions in the Middle East,” she said.

Asked about the safety of Pakistani nationals in Iraq, she said the country’s embassy in Baghdad was on the alert to deal with any emergency situation.

“We are concerned about the safety of Pakistani citizens in Iraq and have issued an advisory in this regard. We have also instructed our mission in Baghdad to remain vigilant to deal with any emergency,” Farooqui said.